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Comrades 2011

Sean Moolman

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Sean Moolman, 15268
Novice, beating the bailer's bus!

About 6 years ago I was getting bored with my gym training, and decided I needed a goal to work towards and to motivate me in keeping up my exercising. I decided on the Midmar Mile. From 2006 to 2010 I did 5 Midmar Miles and several other open water swimming events. (By the way, this is also a fantastic event and experience that I would recommend to all Comrades runners!)

However, swimming is different to running in that swimming is not natural human locomotion and technique plays a major role. At some point I got frustrated with putting in more and more effort in training without achieving significant improvements in my times. For the 2010 Midmar Mile I even went for stroke correction coaching, but could not further improve my time.

I thus decided that I needed a new challenge. Since I have been running in the swimming ‘off-season’ to keep fit for a few years already, I decided I would enter a few 10k runs. At that point I never ran further than 10 km.

So I did two 10 km events in 2009 and thoroughly enjoyed them. In August 2010 I did my first 21 km and really enjoyed it as well. There and then I decided that Comrades 2011 was going to be my next goal.

Luckily I discovered the Alsoran website, and I also bought Don Oliver’s book, which I think I must have read at least 15 times!  I really enjoyed the training build-up, and mostly stuck to Don’s programme, bar an injury here and there...

In mid-April I did a 60 km long training run in 5h 59 min and felt quite good. I even had thoughts of a sub 9 hr Comrades, but realised that my best marathon time (3h49min) was not really good enough. So I settled on a 10h target.

After the 60 km training run I suddenly picked up ITB in my right leg. This was quite worrying, since I have read about this injury even before then. I tried to manage it as best I could. Two weeks after the 60 km, I did my last marathon (Wally Hayward) as part of the preparation, and although the ITB did not come back strongly, it was present throughout the race, and I did not have a very enjoyable run.

This thing nagged at me in the final weeks to the Comrades. I did not even consider pulling out, as it was to be my first Comrades, all the arrangements were made, and many people were going to follow me in the race!  So I decided to go ahead and do it. I decided that, no matter what happens on race day, I’m going to push through to the end!

I slept very well on the Friday night, since I read somewhere that you don’t really sleep much on the Saturday night. This turned out to be very accurate, since I did not manage to sleep AT ALL on the Saturday night! I kept on looking at my watch and willing the minute hand forward so that we can get going already...

The starting line pens, the Chariots of Fire music, the tangible electric energy in the sea of bodies, the cock crow and the starting gun was all a bit of a blur. Next thing I knew there was a snake of human bodies crawling up the hills out of Durban. It was very exciting to see all the supporters on the bridges and on the sides of the road cheering the runners on. It was then that it hit me – this is really it, I am running the Comrades! It was fantastic to experience what I have seen on TV so many times before in person, “from the inside”...

I heeded all the good advice from many people regarding holding back, and paced myself very well, even employing run/walk strategies up Cowies and Fields’ Hill to keep my heart rate in a sustainable band.  I was worried about the ITB returning, but it seemed to stay away, although my right leg felt a bit stiff.

At 47 km to go, I was well within time for my 10h target finish time, when the ITB came back with a vengeance! My right leg seized up completely, and I could not run at all. I hobbled along and tried to run every now and then, but the pain was just too much. The doubt shot into my head and I thought that my race was over. I thought about the bailers’ bus, and what I would say to all my friends and family afterwards... However, I thought that there was no other option left to me than to stop the race. Beforehand one of my colleagues told me about how he hobbled along for the last 17 km with ITB, and I thought to myself it would be impossible to hobble along for 47 km with ITB!

This is where I really started experiencing the spirit of Comrades. A fellow runner passed me and, when seeing how I was struggling and attempting to run but failing, she told me that I should relax and just walk for a while and see what happened, since my time was still very good. I took this advice and decided to walk until Drummonds and then perhaps get on the bailer’s bus there.

Another runner came past and, recognising the ITB walk, stopped and told me that he had some muti in his bag. He sprayed something onto my leg (I still don’t know what it was) and continued on. Just after this I reached the physio station at Drummond, and got a rub on my leg. They asked me “hot or cold?” and I said “cold”. I don’t know what they put on my leg either...

I walked/hobbled past the bailers’ bus, and saw a very dejected runner leaning against the bus. I started to veer in that direction for a millisecond and then decided “to hell with this” – I was going to see how far I can get. I could not stand the thought of bailing. I asked myself repeatedly “what are you made of?”, and must admit I got a bit emotional.

Suddenly I discovered that all the muti’s and the rub must have done something, since I could run through an initial bit of pain and then my leg would be ok for a while. The pain would come back when I started walking, and every time I started running again, but it was now more manageable.

So I continued on. At around 60km I realised that I would actually be able to make it in time. At some point the 11h bus came past, and I hung on for a while, but then fell back. I continued in a run/walk fashion and actually caught up to the 11h bus again with just about 10 km to go! However, I decided to walk the whole Polly Shorts, since I did not want to damage my leg permanently (at least not any more than it was already)...

The last few km’s felt like an eternity, but then I caught sight of the stadium and the pain disappeared almost completely. I ended in 11h 22 min. Not exactly my 10 h original goal, but I am still over the moon about finishing despite running (of sorts) with a leg injury for 47 km!

Looking back, it was an amazing experience. The camaraderie between runners, the chatterboxes along the way, the characters, the supporters dressed up and entertaining the runners, etc.

Just after the race I uttered the standard “never again”, but of course it is barely 2 weeks later and I have already decided to do the down run next year and get that ‘back to back’ medal.

See you all at the starting line in June 2012!

External links: Official Comrades Marathon website

Copyright Nikki Campbell 2011